How to scale up in a ‘culture-first’ manner

In this myGrapevine magazine exclusive, Melissa Paris, Lead People Scientist, EMEA at Culture Amp explains why culture should come first, especially in moments of change...

When businesses go through any period of change – whether this is a restructure, digital transformation, or rapid growth period – putting company culture front and centre is key.

This is because any type of change can often be unnerving for employees – particularly if there are question marks over their future – so it is crucial that leaders have strong and clear channels of communication with their workforce, something which can underpin a strong culture.

In fact, data from the people and culture platform Culture Amp found that during the height of the pandemic, uncertainty and change actually seemed to spark a doubling down, from leaders, on focusing on important elements of their culture: communication, transparency and gratitude. Culture Amp’s COVID-19 Survey saw employee trust in leaders rise, with more thinking that their bosses kept them in the loop and valued their efforts. All of these elements, in this case tied to good communication, can positively impact company culture.

It's just one of the many reasons why, to return to the first point, putting culture first, when changing, transforming or scaling, is crucial. To help understand this, myGrapevine magazine exclusively spoke to Melissa Paris, Lead People Scientist, EMEA at Culture Amp to find out more about what is meant by ‘culture-first’ and why culture should always be thought of in any period of change or uncertainty.

Melissa Paris,

Lead People Scientist, EMEA

“Companies' kind of hit [what you can] almost call ‘culture crunch’ points in their scaling journey based on where in that growth period they are”


What do you mean by ‘culture-first’?


We use the term ‘culture-first’ a lot. So, describing a type of organisation like a ‘culture-first’ company or, as a descriptive term, so [for example] to be successful you need to put culture first and that refers to the fact that, historically, companies used to put cash and profits first when making business decisions [and] they would look at performance metrics, revenue, sales, profit and those things would drive their business decisions. But, in reality, we now know those profits and cash are lag indicators and they are going to be driven by your employees who are building your products, interacting with customers and making decisions. So instead of concentrating first on the end result of cash and profit, a culture-first company focuses first on employees as the driver of performance. 

Melissa’s 3 tips for managing uncertainty


Open communication

“The first [tip] would be using [uncertainty] as an opportunity for leaders to communicate openly and honestly and even show some vulnerability in that communication.”


Communicate what will stay the same

“The second tip along the same line that I would recommend in uncertainty is to communicate what is going to stay the same.”


Adjust goals

“The third tip I would say is adjust your goals. Don’t be afraid to adjust your goals regularly.”


How can HR scale in a ‘culture-first’ way?


There’s almost a few different ways that you might think about scaling up and the challenges that come with that. So, you could think about that [in terms of] company size or by stage of the funding or speed of growth. We have looked at our own data from our customers that are going through those changes of different lenses and we basically learnt that organisations are going to face different people and culture challenges at different stages of growth.

Companies' kind of hit [what you can] almost call ‘culture crunch’ points in their scaling journey based on where in that growth period they are. [One thing] I would say is that HR can be using the data that they have and the feedback from employees to understand when they are going to hit those ‘crunch points’ and using that data to try and avoid those wherever possible or succeed through them. One example that we have seen in our data is that as companies scale, they tend to hit a point where they go from being very mission-driven to being more metrics-driven and that can really change the employee experience and the people that are going to be attracted to working at your organisation.

HR as well as business leaders can know that they are likely going to hit that crunch as they get to later stages of growth and use that feedback from employees to tweak and change. So, for those in that later stage of growth, they’re going to want to 1) communicate some of the realities of the situation and why metrics and targets are going to be more important when they scale and 2) focus on setting a compelling vision for employees where its maybe not as apparent day-to-day. So, really articulating how employees will benefit and their company is going to make a difference.

“I’m sure HR and business leaders would agree that culture is important”


Why should culture come first in periods of change or uncertainty?


I’m sure HR and business leaders would agree that culture is important. But [in addition] most would agree that in times of uncertainty, whether that is a restructure, growth or digital transformation, they are not always the moments where [employers] tend to put culture first. Sometimes we just don’t even make the connection between something like say digital transformation and our culture but, in reality, that is the most crucial time to be collecting and acting on employee feedback and putting culture first, because really what you are doing is you’re understanding the pain points that your employees are experiencing during that change and acting upon those in real time. That is going to be crucial to getting through the changes.

About Culture Amp

Culture Amp is a market-leading employee experience platform that lets you transform your organisation and build a competitive advantage by putting your culture first. It captures insights from your employees, giving leaders and managers a better look at the big picture so they can take data-driven action and keep your people aligned through times of uncertainty.

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